How do you know your computer is free of keyloggers? You don’t.
It’s not the answer most people want to hear, but it’s the true bottom line.
There are a few reasons for it, which I’ll discuss, as well as what you and I need to do in the face of this rather grim reality.
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A quick note about keyloggers
Be it “keyloggers” or the ever-popular “ransomware”, some terms seem to get people’s attention more than others.
We need to be clear about something: there’s nothing special about keyloggers, and there’s nothing special about ransomware. The names describe what they do, not what they are. What they are is very simple: they’re just forms of malware.
What they do once they arrive might be interesting or severe, but the fact that they are malware warrants our attention. Like any form of malware, the most important thing to do is to prevent them from getting on your machine. The second most important? Detection and removal.
But this applies to all malware.
Proving a negative
There’s no way to absolutely know or prove that your machine doesn’t have malware.
Looking for malware and not finding it isn’t enough — there’s no guarantee your anti-malware tools know all the malware to look for, or all the ways that malware could hide.
No anti-malware tool is guaranteed to catch every possible malware. None. By definition, the creation of malware is always ahead of its detection. Even the very best anti-malware tools are always playing catch-up.
If you run a zillion different anti-malware tools and they all come up empty-handed, this doesn’t prove you have no malware. All it says is that it’s highly unlikely…
… which, pragmatically, is the best we can hope for.
Staying safe, without proof
The best you and I can do is to stack the deck in our favor.
Make it difficult for malware to arrive. That means not installing untrusted software, not opening random attachments, making sure your firewall is doing its job, not falling for phishing attempts, running good security software, and more.
Make it likely that any malware that makes it through will be caught. That means making sure you’re running up-to-date security software and that it’s scanning appropriately.
Make it possible to recover quickly with minimal impact if something isn’t caught immediately. That means backing up regularly.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the set of rules and admonitions folks in my position have been preaching for years…
… rules and admonitions I’ve laid out in what I consider to be my single most important article: Internet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet.
Even getting out of bed is risky
I wish I could offer you a 100% guarantee — a way you can be completely certain your machine is free of malware and all is well.
I can’t. Just like we can’t guarantee that we won’t get hit by a bus or fall down the stairs.
All we can really do is stack the deck in favor of our safety. Look both ways before crossing, hold the handrail, and stay safe online.
There are no guarantees. But, while you should never reduce your vigilance, you can absolutely reduce your concern and carry on using your technology in all the wonderful ways it was intended.